It’s all part of the plan. The sunglasses, the calling off the fitness run, the ending practice a few minutes early. It wouldn’t surprise me if Tom Coughlin had all of these changes written down somewhere in a master plan he put together in 1994 when he took the Jaguars head coaching job: if not before. Tom Coughlin is the most organized person I’ve ever known. (Actually Dom Capers could be the most organized person I’ve ever met, but Coughlin won’t let me speak to him so I can ask him.)
He has his day mapped out, his week mapped out; his year mapped out, and expects the schedule to be followed. People who interfere with the schedule, who aren’t part of achieving the objective are usually given one chance to get with the program, or they’re out. He’s this way with everybody, his players, his friends, his coaches, even sometimes with his family. He’s looking for people to separate themselves from the pack. Show him something different, something that shows more commitment. I guess everybody is a bit of an overstatement; he actually doesn’t afford the media any chance to separate themselves. He throws the media into one basket; the one marked “something I have to do that takes time away from the important stuff” and doesn’t allow us to separate from one another. I’ve mentioned that to him more than once, and he disagrees.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Tom Coughlin. A lot. I know him professionally and we have a nice personal relationship as well. His work in the community is exemplary and there’s not much I fault him with during his tenure as the Jaguars head coach. It doesn’t mean we haven’t disagreed on occasion over the last six years. So much so in fact, that two times we’ve been nose to nose (mostly Coughlin yelling and me listening).
He is a fairly complex individual. The national media, and those observing from afar have tried to paint his personality with a broad brush. Tough disciplinarian, typical college coach trying to force his way on professional athletes. It wouldn’t be too hard to come up with that image, Patton with a coach’s whistle if you were just mildly paying attention. Coughlin believes in character; character that was once defined as “an integration of habits of conduct superimposed on temperament, the will exercised on disposition, though, emotion and action.” He believes in personal discipline and it’s application in everyday life. There’s a bit of Spartan philosophy mixed in as well; each man working himself as a part of the unit, protective of each other, loyal beyond doubt. If you know that about the man, everything else falls into place. He doesn’t understand people not doing their best. Not displaying their character as it is developed through practice is foreign to him.
His wife Judy tells a hilarious story about the airlines losing his luggage on a short trip to the Caribbean. Coughlin didn’t want to leave the room until the airline delivered his luggage. He was adamant. That’s their job, so they should do it right! Judy finally convinced him to buy a bathing suit at the gift shop so as to not waste part of the trip.
His success’ cannot be overstated as a head coach in the National Football League. There’s only one hurdle left: win the Super Bowl. Can Coughlin put his team in the proper mental state to get to the big game and perform? Looking back over the history of the game, the teams that have won it, many times got there by rallying behind their coach. Ditka, Parcells, even Dick Vermeil. Can Coughlin foster that relationship with his players? He has kept them at arms length in the past, an old school player-coach relationship. He started bringing doughnuts to the Friday workouts a couple of years ago. It shocked some of the players at the time, but brought many of them into his camp.
Some people think he’s turned the discipline of the club over to the veterans. Not exactly. He’s challenged the veterans to handle the discipline. Big difference. It’s part of the plan. The question is; what part of the plan gets the team to the next step? The answer probably drives Coughlin crazy because he knows he doesn’t control it. The players do. Only the players as a group can create an atmosphere where nothing but ultimate success is acceptable. Coughlin has put them right where they should be, but he’s taken them as far as he can. They have to do the rest.